President Donald Trump has repeatedly shown that when it comes to foreign policy, he prefers bullying over supporting widely held norms. He has embraced dictators while trashing American allies and alliances. He ignores or undermines international institutions that the United States helped to create. And on the trade front, he has slapped tariffs on close allies and partners while invoking vague claims about national security. The latest move came last week, when Trump again threatened trade sanctions against Mexico, a major trading partner, over a humanitarian crisis at the southern border that he helped create. The families escaping violence and poverty in Central America that are crossing the border with Mexico are not a national security threat. But they do look more and more like props in Trump’s reelection campaign.
A few weeks ago, when Trump proposed shutting down the southern border entirely, it seemed that cooler heads had prevailed. He backed off and said that he would give Mexico a year to stop the migrant flow and then consider imposing 25 percent tariffs on the country’s automobile exports if the government failed to do so. But Trump doesn’t know how to keep his word, and something apparently set him off last week.
In another unexpected tweet, Trump suddenly announced that he was invoking the International Economic Emergency Powers Act and would impose 5 percent tariffs on all imports from Mexico beginning June 10. If Mexico does not stop the migrant flow across the border—or slow it substantially, depending on who you ask—those tariffs will rise to 10 percent on July 1 and continue rising each month in increments of 5 percentage points until they reach 25 percent.